Saturday, November 5, 2016

The true story of Guararey

                Photo of Roberto Baute Sagarra from Casa del Changüí in Guantanamo

The true story of the salsa anthem “El Guararey de Pastora” (the Shepherdess’ Complaint) and changüí, the genre that inspired many bands (from Orquesta Revé to Los Van Van, Ray Barretto to Típica ’73 and Guararé), begins in the poor, mountainous south-western region of Guantánamo, Cuba when the tres guitar player, itinerant troubadour and purveyor of the traditional music form known as the changüí, Roberto Baute Sagarra, composed the piece in relative anonymity in the early part of the 20th century. Sadly it was not registered or copyrighted, as was often the case in those times, which allowed the work to become part of the repertoire of his countryman Pedro Speck, who was another purveyor and carrier of the tradition of changüí. Speck was leader of the Grupo Changüí that released a record on Cuba’s state label Siboney in 1983, ¡Ahora Sí! (Speck, on vocals and maraca, was 75 at the time or the recording). Interestingly enough, in the midst of this beautiful “traditional” recording of very elemental guitar and percussion music that sounds unchanged from Colonial times, you can hear Speck on this record frequently using the Anglo expression “Yeah, yeah!”—which may come from the influence of the U.S. Naval base at Guantánamo or theBeatles, it’s hard to tell but it’s plainly there. “El Guararey de Pastora” does not feature on that record, though a later CD does have it.

Grupo Changüí Guantánamo at the Festival Nacional de Agrupaciones Folklóricas, La Habana 1962. From left to right: Arturo Latamblé (bongosero y director), José “Nino” Olivares (marímbula), Pedro Speck (cantante y maracas), Carlos Borromeo Planche “Cambrón” (guayo y cantante principal), y Reyes “Chito” Latamblé (tresero). 
(Photo: Archivo Centro Inciarte)


And so Pedro Speck and Roberto Baute Sagarra both performed the song from the 1940s until the 1970s, and it was never recorded for posterity by local radio or a state label at the time, as sometimes was the case with other rural folk music of the era. That might have been the end of it if the tune had never left the region, but in the 1970s, the story became complicated, when Juan Formell, director of the Havana-based Cuban dance orchestra Los Van Van, took this composition and added it to his “songo” repertoire of the ‘70s, where it acquired immense fame, being recorded in 1974 for the band’s third long play (Areito – LDS-3471). 

Formell has said he learned the song from Pedro Speck, who was passing through Havana in the early’70s; the tune stuck in Formell’s head for a time before he came up with the spare and funky organ/flute arrangement that all Cuban dancers subsequently made their go-to party anthem. Soon after, in 1975, Ray Barretto’s pianist Gil Lopez made his own mutated no-violins charanga arrangement, adding the hard-core Nuyorican touch, becoming a massive hit in it’s own right (Barretto, Fania Records – SLP 00486). Very few if any American Barretto fans had heard the original Van Van, and probably none knew of its rural roots in Guantánamo. Probably learned from a Van Van record acquired while on tour in Venezuela, Barretto made it the lead track on his 7th LP of the ‘70s. While Rubén Blades, himself of half Cuban ancestry, was one of the two vocalists on the song (the other was Puerto Rico’s Tito Gomez who took the lead), the composer was simply (as was so often the case) listed as some guy named “D. R.” aka Derechos Reservados, or Rights Reserved (ha ha).


Since then of course the tune has traveled the world. And although the composition for a long time was attributed to Pedro Speck, there was eventually a legal suit brought in the Guantanamo Provincial Court in 1976, ruling in favor of its real author Roberto Baute Sagarra. In defense of the creator an exceptional witnesses was brought forth, Petronila Rouseaux, former wife of the musician, and with her testimony authorities learned an unexpected fact: the ‘pastora’ (shepherdess) in the song was none other than Pastora Yuani Sayú, better known to Latin music fans as “Pastorita” (who died in 2013 at the age of 97). The testimony of Petronila Rouseaux, at the time 94 years old, put an end to the dispute over the authorship of the song. But that wasn’t all.

Photo of Pastorita

According to Michelle White on, “Pastora had a daughter who had caught the eye of Roberto Baute Sagarra, the  tresero of Changüí Guantánamo. He began a romance with her and Pastora was not happy with his attentions towards her daughter because Roberto, also known as Chito, was already married and 20 years older than the object of his affection. This was the source of Pastora’s guararey (anger) with her friend Chito and the inspiration for the song.”

Pastora Lluany Chauyous aka Yuani Sayú (b. 1916), the lady who inspired this changüí. (photo: Archivo Centro Inciarte).

Throwing a little more light on the subject, Martha Reyes Noa, in a post from Herencias Culturales, mentions that Pastora admitted “that at first, as every mother feels suspicious in these relationships, she suspected” Baute Segarra of having unclean motives “but in the end those” feelings were “dissolved” when she realized her daughter simply loved the changüí and wanted to learn “how to dance at the parties that were ranging” back then, some for “up to a week, from house to house.” Of course, Baute was there at almost all those changüís (a term that means lower class dance party), performing with his tres guitar and giving dance lessons, so Pastorita soon realized nothing more than that was going on.

Contradicting Noa’s telling slightly, White goes on to relate:

“At the time the song was written, Pedro Speck was the director of Changüí Guantánamo and he registered the rights to the song under his name. It wasn't until the popularity of Van Van's version that the subject of authorship became an issue. In June 1976 the court ruled in favor of Roberto Baute when Pastorita herself testified on his behalf. [Noa says it was Baute’s widow, Rouseaux]

Previously attributed to Speck or simply listed as DR, the song is now correctly attributed to Roberto Baute, although it was not officially registered with ACDAM under his name until 21 April 1981. However, I was told in Guantanamo that neither Speck nor Baute ever received any income from the recording or performances of other versions of the song.”

So many countless “traditional” authorless “folk” songs from “Wimoweh” (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) to “Guantanamera” turn out to have real composers (Solomon Linda and Joseíto Fernández respectively) who were inspired by real events. The story behind “El Guararey de Pastora” and its author, Roberto Baute Sagarra, puts a face and name to the song that has inspired countless dancers, singers and musicians over the decades.

By Pablo E. Yglesias with help from Martha Reyes Noa and Michelle White, as well as the article "DEL CHANGÜÍ A LA SALSA Y MUCHO MÁS. GUANTÁNAMO EN LA ORBITA MUSICAL DEL CARIBE" by José Cuenca Sosa from Herencia Latina.

Elio Revé Matos, leader of Orquesta Revé (from which Formell "graduated to create Van Van),the man who converted the 'toques' (beats/hits) of the 'bongó changüisero' to the timbales (pailas). (photo: Archivo Centro Inciarte).